IAGS logo Energy Security
Prepared by the
Institute for the Analysis of Global Security

March 31, 2004
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Terror's Next Target
Attacks on the West's oil and gas infrastructure -- from production facilities to pipelines and tankers -- are likely to be the next "mega" target of terrorists, and could wreak havoc with the world's economy, according to an in-depth IAGS analysis of the susceptibility of the energy industry featured in the latest Journal of International Security Affairs (Winter 2004).

Minding Its Business
Saudi Arabia, which has demonstrated its willingness to use its vast oil reserves as a foreign policy tool, has not acted to aid U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq.

Fencing in looters and saboteurs in Iraq
Too many people in and outside of Iraq are hoping to deny Iraq a better future through a campaign of sabotage and plunder of the country's neglected oil facilities. The problem, and possible solutions.

Energy security and liquefied natural gas
Demand for natural gas has increased as have the security vulnerabilities presented by liquefied natural gas terminals and tankers.

Under the Radar

Oil, terrorism and drugs intermingle in Colombia
Seventy U.S. Special Forces soldiers are training Colombians to protect an oil pipeline.

Japan's struggle to secure future oil supply
Energy dependent Japan looks to Iran for oil, causing tension with the U.S.

Chad-Cameroon pipeline project put to test
Will the pipeline, partially financed by the World Bank, improve the lot of Chad and Cameroon or exacerbate existing corruption and strife?

Natural resource curse hits São Tomé
A tiny West African country illustrates a well known problem.

On the technology front

Fuel Cell Locomotive for Military and Commercial Railways
An international consortium is developing the world’s largest fuel cell vehicle, a 109 metric-ton, 1 MW locomotive.

Fuel cell power plant installed at NJ Sheraton
A stationary fuel cell will supply 250 kilowatts of electric power as well as heat to the Sheraton Edison Hotel, accounting for about 25 percent of the hotel's electricity and hot water.

Fuel cell scooters for Europe and China
Palcan's fuel cell powered scooter is designed to address the world's need for a low-end mass transport vehicle.

U.S. Air Force to get fuel cell bus
Fuel cell powered thirty-foot hybrid bus to be stationed at the Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

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Back Issues

New study raises doubts about Saudi oil reserves

With over 260 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, a quarter of the world's total, Saudi Arabia is not only the top foreign supplier to the United States - the world's largest energy consumer - but also essentially the sole source of liquidity in the oil market. According to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA), the world will become more dependent on Arabian oil in the next two decades. To meet global demand for oil, Saudi Arabia will need to produce 13.6 million barrels a day (mbd) by 2010 and 19.5 mbd by 2020. Both the International Energy Agency and EIA assume Saudi oil output will double over the next 15 to 20 years. In a new study soon to be released, Matthew R. Simmons, president of Simmons and Company International, a specialized energy investment banking firm, contends that this is not likely to happen. He argues that Saudi Arabia's oil fields now are in decline, that the country will not be able to satisfy the world's thirst for oil in coming years and that its capacity will not climb much higher than its current capacity of 10mbd. Considering the growth in demand, this could easily spark a global energy crisis.

Simmons analyzed 200 technical papers on Saudi reserves by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and his work was peer reviewed by a dozen senior technical experts. What he discovered tells a different story than the conventional wisdom.

Saudi Arabia has over 300 recognized reservoirs but 90% of its oil comes from the five super giant fields discovered between 1940 and 1965. Since the 1970s there haven't been new discoveries of giant fields. The most significant of the oil fields is Ghawar. Found in 1948, the 300-mile-long sliver near the Persian Gulf is the world's largest oil field and accounts for 55%-60% of all Saudi oil produced. Ghawar's current proven reserves are 12% of the world's total. The field produces 5 mbd, which is 6.25% of the world's oil production. According to Simmons, Ghawar's northern regions are almost depleted. Two other giant fields, Abqaiq and Berri, also seem to have peaked in the 1970s.

Saudi Aramco officials flew especially to Washington to refute Simmons' analysis. In a speech before the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, Nansen G. Saleri, a manager of reservoir management for Saudi Aramco said Saudi Arabia can maintain production capacity at the current rate of 10 mbd for the rest of this decade and if needed they could increase maximum output by 20-50% within a decade. His colleague Mahmoud Abdul-Baqi, Saudi Aramco's vice president for exploration also expressed optimism about the future of their industry. "We have a lot of area to explore and find a lot of oil and gas. Our track record shows we delivered for the past 70 years and we will continue to deliver in the next 70 years and beyond." Saudi Aramco says that with more investments it can expand its capacity to 12 mbd or more. But according to the New York Times, privately, Saudi oil officials are less self-assured, cautioning that production beyond 12 mbd would damage the oil fields. Even if their prediction is wrong, the road to the 19.5 million barrels a day by 2020 projected by the EIA is very far.

Some economists who reviewed Simmons' work rejected it on the basis that if oil prices rise high enough, advanced recovery techniques will be applied, averting supply problems. But Simmons disputes this wisdom. For a decade the technological revolution which includes horizontal drilling accelerated the extraction and created "monstrous decline rate." He is adamant that the Saudi oil miracle is fading. "The next generation of Saudi oil will also be harder to extract and therefore more expensive. In 2-3 years we will have conclusive evidence that Saudi oil is peaking," he told Energy Security. Furthermore, he explained that in Saudi Arabia, seawater is injected into the giant fields to pressure the oil toward the top of the reservoir. The problem is that over time, the volume of water that is pumped along with the oil increases, and the volume of oil declines proportionally until it becomes uneconomical to lift the oil.

Analyzing Saudi Arabia's capacity is not an easy task. Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, has not provided production data for more than two decades. OPEC, the IEA and EIA data systems shed little light on what underlies Saudi sand. "Their predictive track record has been awful. In the land of the blind, reliable OPEC data is either untrusted or non-existent " Simmons said. Simmons calls for a new era of true energy transparency. "The IEA should roll up their sleeves and work to obtain far better demand and cost data and far better decline data for non-OPEC oil. OPEC should provide field by field production and well-by-well data, budget details and third party engineering reports."

"The entire world assumes Saudi Arabia can carry everyone's energy needs on its back cheaply. If this turns out not to work there is no 'plan B.' Global spare capacity is now 'all Saudi Arabia.' This is the world's insurance policy and no third party inspector has examined it for years. Conventional wisdom says 'don't worry. trust today,' but if conventional wisdom is wrong, the world faces a giant energy crisis." Calling for large-scale research into new energy sources, he said: "If all these worries are wrong, it is like our preoccupation with nuclear war or future global warming. But even if part of it becomes true and not expected, the results are awful." Coming from someone who has advised the secretary of energy and the 2000 Bush campaign, this is a warning worth heeding.

More information:
Matthew Simmons' presentation slides
Listen to the audio